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Reviews for New mystery book reviews for July.  Click on links for buying info

 

Bait  by Nick Brownlee

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN: 978-0-312-55021-9

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

On the coast of Kenya, a group of foreign misfits carve a precarious living from the tourist trade. This includes running charter-fishing boats. Among them is Dennis Bentley, owner of the Martha B. At the beginning, Dennis is tortured and killed at the hands of a Kenyan deck hand- George - on the orders of a mysterious white man. After George dumps the body overboard, the man departs on another boat. When the George starts the engines, an explosion destroys the evidence and kills the potential witness.

George’s wife pesters the police until Inspector David Jouma is ordered to look into the man’s disappearance. The local police quickly declare the incident an accident and close the case. As Jouma investigates, he begins to doubt the verdict of "accident."  The detective is not alone in that belief. Dennis’ daughter Martha travels from New York to settle his estate. In Kenya she finds an ally in Jake Moore – a fishing boat owner and former member of an elite English police squad. Lacking trustworthy colleagues in an often corrupt police department, Jouma recruits Jake to help.

The investigation becomes complicated and dangerous when the trail leads to prominent Kenyan criminals, a psychotic South African ex-soldier and an international arms dealer. The identity of the arms dealers will be a surprise to all involved. Brownlee spins an entertaining and believable tale. Jouma is a likable and deep character that breaks the cookie-cutter mold of many stories.

 

 

 

 

 

The Innocent Spy by Laura Wilson

Publisher: Minotaur ISBN-10: 0312538103

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader

Bombed-out London becomes grittier by the day with night-time air raids, gang turf wars, constant mistrust and the blurring of civil rights during World War I in spite of the best efforts of the overwhelmed and impeccably honorable Inspector Ted Stratton.  After silent-movie star Mabel Morgan takes a quick flight out of her window, Stratton is convinced that the fearlessly witty actress’ descent was no accident.  Stratton’s superiors warn him off the case but he gets a surprising helping hand with his unauthorized investigation.

While Stratton works his angles, glacially beautiful Diana plays her own game as a “file clerk” for a top-level spy who clearly outranks everyone around him.  Through her job requirements, she uncovers secrets that will lead to several ruined upper-class lives if her unshakeable boss is told.  Several of the characters are based on real MI-5 spies, which add further credibility and interest.

Diana’s spy story is interspersed with Stratton’s police work, offering additional insight into the confusing, difficult times experienced by wartime Londoners.  Wilson avoids mawkishness as she describes heart-wrenching family separations as parents sent their children to the countryside to avoid Axis bombs while they continued to work and live as normally as possible.  Atmospheric and true to the era, Wilson periodically describes the constant deprivation during the air raids while creating the likeable investigator Stratton and sympathetic, although unwise, spy Diana.  Hard to put down, The Innocent Spy holds its secrets close until the very end when they are finally spilled in a very messy and rewarding way. 

 

 

 

The Second Savior by  Mark Bouton

Publisher: Five Star/Gale ISBN 978 1 59414 766 1

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

You’ll feel you already know the team of Rick Dover and Falcon before you’ve read more than a few pages.  Falcon sounds and acts a lot like another dangerous bird, Hawk, from the Spenser novels of Robert B Parker.  And Dover, like Spenser, can exchange street talk with his partner with whom he has a closer than usual bond; the two can almost read each other’s minds at times.

An ordinary day chasing bad guys in Los Angeles turns unusual very fast when a trio of teenage sociopaths shoots up a discount liquor store and almost gets LAPD cops Dover and Falcon at the same time.  Dover is saved by the selfless action of a nearby workman, a carpenter who is working on the store, and who throws himself in harm’s way t save Dover.  Why would a total stranger do that?  Dover chews over the problem but when he tries to get an answer from the quickly-healed Jake Carroll, he comes away unsatisfied. 

Carroll is integral to the court case that Dover hopes will convict the shooters, but he seems very unwilling to testify.  It takes another couple of murders to bring him around, and he goes into protective custody.  Before the trial, Jake disappears as if by magic from a locked hotel room.  All that’s left is a pile of clothing and the bullet that the doctors had left in his body because it was too dangerous to remove it.  Cue the Twilight Zone theme.

This is an entertaining book with some well-drawn characters and a bit of snappy dialogue (“The place is as dead as a salad bar in Watts”) but there’s so much street jive that sometimes you don’t know what the characters are trying to tell each other. The two very different strands of the story line don’t knit together as well as they could, one seems grafted onto the other, especially in the final chapters. 

Those quibbles aside, this is a fast-moving, entertaining police novel which certainly beats watching almost any song or dance reality show you can name.

 

 

 

Ravens by George Dawes Green

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing  ISBN 978 0 46 53896 1

Reviewed by Karen Treanor, New Mystery Reader 

The desire for money is the root of all evil, the Bible tells us.  In this book, the desire for money brings together an ordinary family which just happens to have won millions in the lottery, and a pair of no-hopers who’ve rarely done an honest day’s work.  The conjunction produces some strange alchemy in human relationships.

Shaw and Romeo hatch a hare-brained scheme to get rich the easy way when they accidentally learn about the Boatwright family’s huge lottery win.  All they have to do is hold the family for ransom until the check clears.  Shaw will move in to keep an eye on the Boatwrights, and Romeo will lurk in a motel, ready to do what needs to be done to keep Mitch Boatwright in line.

It sounds simple enough, but soon unexpected factors come into play.  Nobody told Shaw about the Stockholm Syndrome, which causes a bond to grow between the captives and captors—or the corollary where the captors start to care about their prey. Shaw develops feelings for the daughter, Tara, to the point of daydreaming about settling down and raising a family with her.  This sort of soft thinking isn’t in Romeo’s nature; he’s altogether a tougher breed of cat.

Life gets complicated for the grifters when religion and the mass media enter the Boatwright’s lives.  Shaw finds himself being made into somebody else—and it’s not a completely unpleasant experience.   And then there’s the aging deputy sheriff, who is convinced there’s something amiss despite being told to lay off the case by his boss.  Romeo becomes suspicious also, something’s happening to his old friend Shaw, something rather strange and threatening.  He knows the girl’s involved somehow, and gets involved in a sick relationship with Tara’s best friend Clio as he tries to work out what’s happening.  Eventually Romeo sees only one way out of the deepening quagmire , if only he has the guts to pull it off.

This is a story that begins with a thread of simple greed, but which becomes a complex fabric of motives and emotions.  It ‘s a measure of Green’s skill that by the last chapter your initial dislike of most of the characters has changed into, if not exactly sympathy,  then a sort of understanding.

 

 

 

 

Blood Lines by Kathryn Casey

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 031237951X

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader 

It’s been about a year since Texas Ranger almost lost her life and all she loved while solving a particularly dangerous case.  And while she has yet to return to her job full-time, she’s managed to offer her services to the Rangers from home; a set-up she knows has just about run its course.  So when she finds herself suddenly thrust into two separate cases, she decides it’s time to come out of her safe haven and face the mysteries head on.  The first case involves the mysterious death of a wealthy business woman; a death that initially seems like a suicide, but upon closer inspection is in fact a brutal murder tied to a dangerous and greed-filled scam.  The second case, that of a young Brittney Spears-like teenaged star being stalked, will prove to be a bit more difficult to resolve.  The stalker’s identity being just about anyone, meaning everyone is a suspect.  But it’s these two separate mysteries that will finally bring her out of her shell and back into the living, that is if she can dodge the danger that comes with finding the answers. 

Fans of the procedural might find this latest from Casey to be a bit oversimplified and lacking in sizzle. While Casey’s main character is able to solve one case from her home office, all the while dealing with a horse on her ranch giving birth, a daughter filled with anguish over her father’s death, and her own romance in question, the answers seem to come a bit too easily and quickly for this case.  And as for the second case, while stretched out a bit further, it’s drawn out into a mystery that seems to hold little enticement as well, with the revelations eventually exposed eliciting only a slight pop as opposed to the bang that should have come with their unexpectedness.  Admittedly, however, while this one doesn’t necessarily challenge and thrill, it isn’t altogether a bad read as it does manage to provide enough small doses scattered throughout to make it mildly entertaining.

 

 

Whiskey Gulf by Clyde W. Ford

Publisher: Vanguard Press  ISBN-10: 1593155220

Reviewed by Scott D. Parker, New Mystery Reader 

“Mayday. Mayday. Mayday.” Few words signal dire straits better than these. And they start a tension-filled opening chapter where a sailboat and its crew of two wander into a live-fire exercise up in the Pacific Northwest. The area is called Whiskey Gulf and the sailboat never arrives at its intended destination. Worried for their friends, the local yacht club hires retired Coast Guard intelligence officer, now private investigator Charlie Noble to look into the matter. He agrees and uses his past contacts in the Guard to see what he can uncover. Like many stories that feature the military, Noble keeps running into roadblocks and secrets that issue from high in the chain of command. Noble merely redirects his course and tries to get at the truth from another angle.

Along the way, however, his girlfriend’s ex-fiancée shows up, making waves in her love life. The ex-fiancée, now her temporary commanding officer, left her at the altar but now regrets his decision. Kate’s unsure of her emotions, causing ripples in her relationship with Noble. That Noble spends some time with a female investigative reporter doesn’t help matters much. Even Noble starts to wonder about his feelings and it takes the help of his Native American partner, Raven, to get to his emotional center. Raven also helps Noble solve the mystery of the missing sailboat as well as its connection to an old Middle Eastern friend Noble knew from his time in the service, a man who may or may not be on Noble’s side.

The landscape of the Pacific Northwest is rendered in vivid and loving detail by author Clyde Ford. In fact, it’s a crucial element to the story and one I found wonderfully fascinating. For a great in-depth experience, Ford’s website links to iGeo, an online map application, and you can see where this adventure takes place, a good thing for anyone who doesn’t know the terrain of the Northwest. There’s quite a bit of nautical and military jargon along the way, most of it defined. I found the story sagged a bit here and there, with long patches of back story that could have been tightened. However, when the action starts, the pace quickens and the race to end was fast and bloody. Moreover, the romantic subplot seemed an afterthought considering how it was built up and how it ended. I enjoy a good love story and I wanted a bit more in that department. But these are minor quibbles. Whiskey Gulf is the third book in the Charlie Noble nautical mystery series. For lovers of boating and suspense, Clyde Ford’s novel is a sure-fire winner.

 

Reviewed by Jim Sells, New Mystery Reader

Charlie Noble is a former US Coast Guard intelligence officer who now makes his living in the Pacific Northwest by taking cases as a PI. Two boaters disappear in an apparent accident in a live fire practice area known as “Whiskey Gulf”. The two boaters were members of the local yacht club at the marina where Noble moors his boat. The other members hire Noble to look into the case.

With the help of Maya Shimazu - a Canadian reporter of Japanese descent - Noble searches the area where the boat disappeared. What first appears to be a boating accident takes on a more sinister slant as he investigates. Two torpedoes barely miss Maya’s boat as they find wreckage of the lost boat.

Then Noble is summoned to a videoconference with his former commander. Noble agrees to help find the couple before his nemesis finds and silences them. With Raven – a Native American ally – Noble searches the coast as he confronts events that forced him to leave the Coast Guard.

The author crafts an interesting mystery with an equally interesting nautical setting.

 

 

 

The Puzzle of Piri Reis by Kent Conwell

Publisher: Avalon  ISBN-10: 0803499582

Reviewed by Bonnye Busbice Good, New Mystery Reader 

Bernard Odom is a wealthy, brilliant man who isn’t afraid to rub it into other people’s faces.  So, it’s no surprise when he’s murdered, only that the Justice of the Peace has ruled it an accident.  Bernard’s son, Ted, worries that his father’s crown jewel, the priceless Piri Reis map, will never be located from its hiding place.  Ted hires Tony Boudreaux, a private investigator originally from South Louisiana who’s moved to Austin, Texas, in an attempt to avoid some of the worst of New Orleans’ crime scene.  Thanks to Bernard’s immodest sense of humor, the biggest clue to finding the map lies in puzzles, another of Bernard’s passions.  Neither Ted nor Tony is sure what to expect, giving the reader ample opportunities to try to figure out the answer. 

Even though Tony’s official investigation concerns the map, the connections of the murdered man with the priceless parchment involves Tony in both cases.  With the benefit of having the local Sheriff’s blessing in San Madras, Tony investigates everyone with a motive and a few who just can’t stay away from the investigation.  Tony maintains his easy-going Cajun attitude which opens doors for him while the murderer aggressively tries to shut him down permanently. 

Kent Conwell effectively describes both parts of Texas and Louisiana without bordering on caricature while creating his puzzling mystery.  The idea of an accurate map (the Piri Reis, c. 1513) created from several maps drawn during the time of Alexander the Great is fascinating, although treasure hunters can find the real one in the Library of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul, Turkey, rather than in someone’s den cluttered with knickknacks and awards. 

 

 

 

Abandon by Blake Crouch

Publisher: Minotaur Books  ISBN-10: 0312537409

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Blake Crouch is one of those authors whose unique and highly imaginative approach to storytelling is so vividly rendered that the reader’s immersion into the tale is so complete that it literally takes a total body shake or cup of cold water to the face to return to reality.  And in his latest tale, Abandon, not only does the reader get to go on one such unflagging adventure into a new reality, but two.  

Switching back from the late 1800s to now, this story begins with the search for gold in the Colorado Rockies, a search that promises wealth for those who found it, but despair for those who don’t. And while the hidden treasure of gold might have been found by those first seeking it, it was just as quickly lost in more ways than one, leaving behind not only a tempting legend of hidden treasure, but a much more confounding mystery - the disappearance of the entire town that seemed to vanish along with the gold. 

For journalist Abigail Foster it’s not the lost gold that calls her to this place, instead it’s an invitation by her estranged father, a historian who seems to have an obsession with the town’s legend, to look into the mystery surrounding the disappearance of all the residents of the small miner’s town that one fateful day.  But when what started as an interesting story turns into a struggle for survival against a new slew of greedy gold-diggers, her long trek into the untamed wilderness of the West goes from a lifestyle feature into front page murder.

Crouch’s latest is not only a tale filled with a relentless dose of adventure and excitement that makes the heart race, but one that offers up layer upon layer of provocative queries that challenge the mind and spirit.  The basic dilemmas and temptations that have always caused hell are brilliantly laid bare in this novel that seamlessly connects generations through those timeless struggles between good and evil.  While the characters’ names might change, settings and technology might change, man-made laws and the way justice is meted out might change, the fundamental battle between right and wrong remains the same.  Yet, in the face of this eternal and seemingly fruitless battle, Blake also manages to offer up hope in such a sincere and unflinching manner that the result is a heartfelt and endearing read that will resonate with all; highly recommended, this is easily one of the best this year.

For Interview with Blake Crouch